The DAFFY sailboat does 3 or 4 Sunset Cruises every week. I make it a point that we will definitely see the sunset, but the Captain is not particularly fond of driving around in the dark and would prefer to be back at the dock before there is no light. This statement applies more to close to the shore and in the waterways than off shore sailing/cruising. Offshore (a few miles off the beach) is actually safer than closer to the beach. Closer in to shore, obstacles include but not limited to fishing boats with no lights (fishermen don’t want to scare away the fish with lights), boaters adrift who played the Bluetooth Speakers all day and drained the boat batteries and now can’t start their engines, dangerous jetties that have no lights on them, and shoal areas that become confusing even to experienced mariners.
Offshore, typically, the only real obstacles are ships that become visible by their red and green navigation lights and white stern lights. To the trained eye, the position and direction of these vessels becomes apparent but even these guys can be a hazard if there is inclement weather. Of course, just like closer to shore, a pleasure boater or fisherman drifting on the high seas with no lights is just as dangerous as one near shore. Stories of boats that hit containers that have fallen off ships is something that generally happens during a hurricane event and is halfway predictable. Other obstacles are wooden pallets, large and smaller deck lines, crab trap lines, and any other kind of debris that might be floating out there, mostly submerged and only apparent when is wraps around your propeller, bends the propeller, or even worse, punches a hole in the hull of the boat.
The most intense section of the US Coast Guard Captain’s license is Lights. A huge portion of the Instructor’s Guide deals with Aids to Navigation of which most of them involve a light: beacons, buoys, channel markers, lighthouses, range markers, safe water marks, danger water marks, etc. etc. All these lights have a certain combination and color. And then there are the lights on every kind of thing that floats, from my boat, to the commercial fishing boats, to the tugs, dredges, ships, emergency vessels, and even sea planes. And, even the bridges! Having good visibility to see these lights, particularly in inclement weather can be a challenge.
And now we get back to cruising the inlets to the ocean and the waterways themselves; big vessels under tow, kids with daddy’s boat and adults with little experience, bridges that fail to open because of car or railroad traffic, And, sometimes the worse obstacle is the tide and wind itself. The Captain better have his vessel under control. Driving on the water is not like driving on asphalt, on the water, the road is moving with the tide. Again, driving around in the dark is challenging. So, when the Captain says “we’re
gonna be back by dark” he has reason to say so. Driving around in the dark is not impossible, it is just more intense!! Sunset Cruises normally leave the dock by 3:30 pm and return by 8 pm in the summer; same cruise is back by 6:30 pm in winter.